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Scent Science

By Evie Rose Grace



Have you ever walked into a museum and wondered how they manage to make WWI trenches really smell like dead bodies, off food, and pyrotechnics? Or spent a day in Disneyland and enjoyed the scent of caramel or hot dogs near the food stalls? Well, there are people who actually make smells for a living - and not just perfume. These people are called scent designers. The scents created by these scientists are used in museums and other attractions to bring the experience to life even more. These tactics are also used as an advertising tool, in places like Disneyland; where they use food smells around the park, so that you feel hungry and could do with some churros, and then “Oh look you’ve stumbled across a churro stall” and you feel a compelling urge to spend your money on a sugary stick of dough. They are highly effective.

How do they know that their scents are accurate?

Well some scents can’t be compared with the real thing, like food or plants. Museums and theme parks often want historical or fantastical scents like Egyptian tombs, roman dinner parties or dragons. To make sure these scents are as realistic as possible, a lot of research is done like reading of old medieval records for descriptions of dragons; and then mixing of scents of things they know, like smoke and fire, living reptiles, and even the smell of animal flesh. When these scents are combined it creates a smell that even though we haven’t actually experienced them in real life, we can recognize them.

But couldn’t they just make anything up if no living person has smelt that scent?

Well, actually no. Despite our inability to remember one certain scent, we can use our previous experiences to determine a scent that makes sense to what we know. Like when you read a book or watch a movie, and a particular whiff is mentioned we experience the smell in our minds. For example, if we want to know what an Egyptian mummy smells like, all that you need have smelled before are, rotting flesh (eg. roadkill), herbs, old bandages, dust and sand, incense, wood, and musty old air. Mixing all of these known scents we can infer what a mummified body smells like. Nasty! Even our noses are clever!


Our sense of smell is quintessential to knowing about the world we live in, even more so than sight. Without smell we couldn’t taste anything. Also smells stick in our memory for a very long time. We can remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year!3 So don’t underestimate your snout! That’s why museums, theme parks and zoos spend so much money on making suretheir attractions smell just right, to enhance your experience.



  1. Liam Findlay, Aquila, Fakes & Forgeries, pages 24-25, Oct. 2019.

  2. Institute, Sense Of Smell. “The UK's Leader in Scent Marketing & Experiences.” AromaPrime, 2020,


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